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Learning Pre-production

19 Pre-Production Steps to Successful Video Content

The most important part of the video production workflow is what happens before the camera starts rolling. Pre-production, or the planning and logistics phase of a video project, is where most of the magic happens before it gets recorded. And while poor pre-production may not break your video, it will break your budget if you don’t do your due diligence.

Fortunately, plenty of marketers and production managers have already gone through the steps and learned from their mistakes. That’s why we decided to put together a list of 20 video pre-production tips that will help save you a lot of time, money, and hassle.

Once you have an idea for a great video project, you need to:

1. Define your audience

Whether you want better insights from Google Adwords or a better, more targeted video, defining your audience is the first step in the pre-production process.

This doesn’t just mean postulating that “Customer A may want to see X” either. Defining an audience is a complex process that includes building buyer personas. After all, your audience is more than just one customer. Narrowing down your video viewer to a specific buyer persona rather than a generic interested audience will help you create a much more targeted and effective video in the long run.

2. Define your message

While the importance of knowing your audience and defining a target market has never been understated, knowing your message is just as important. In other words, don’t try to cram everything into a single animated explainer video.

Your business is made up of many moving parts, and you need different videos for different purposes. Don’t try to explain what you do, sell your service, and bring up a case study all in the same video. A tailored video with a specific message and a specific goal will be much more effective in the long run.

The content marketing landscape may also slowly be shifting towards longer, “deep-dive” content as well. It’s no longer so much about how much you can say as it is about how much you can qualify what you’re saying.

3. Define your budget

Once you’ve define your audience and your message, you need to define your budget. Without a guiding budget at the beginning of pre-production, it’s impossible to manage expectations. You’re going to end up overpromising but under-delivering.

Knowing your budget ahead of time also frees you up to narrow down what you can and cannot do for any given project, and eliminates a lot of second-guessing.

4. Write and revise a script

While a lot of big ideas come from the C-suite, not all executives know how to write scripts. That’s why started out as Scripped, a business scriptwriting service. The original script may have been forgotten by the time post-production rolls around, but it will determine in large part the course of your production and post-production schedules. Taking the time to get professional input at this stage of pre-production is an extremely worthwhile investment.

5. Include greetings and sign-offs

Traditional TV infomercials and calls-to-action have nearly been replaced by smarter, subtler brand of business video, but that’s not to say that there isn’t a place for friendly reminders. Sometimes, too much subtlety could actually detract from conversion, as in the case of Wren’s “First Kiss”, which could have led to even greater sales. In order to fully leverage average attention spans and get the most out of your completion rates, brief greetings and sign-offs should be included in the script.

6. Use your first eight seconds to qualify

Going off #5, know that most viewers will drop your video after the first eight seconds have passed. Why? Because as of 2013, that was the average attention span. (This number lives in infamy because it’s actually one second less than the attention span of a goldfish, but there you have it.)

Fortunately for video producers and scriptwriters everywhere, this isn’t a bad thing. The first eight seconds of video are just enough to include a brief greeting that states who the speaker is, what brand he or she is representing, and what they’re going to talk about. Anyone who wouldn’t have been interested to begin with will drop off after the greeting, but interested viewers will stay engaged.

7. Determine your ideal video length

While conversion and completion metrics shouldn’t be the end-all when it comes to determining the length of your video (hint: your message should make that determination), the final timemark will affect your overall completion rate. As you might expect, there’s a direct correlation between video length and viewer drop-off in the first few minutes that begins to taper off after the 5-minute mark. If you want your video to stay under 30 seconds to retain around 75% of all viewers, then you need to adjust your script accordingly.

8. Be transparent and authentic

The last step and guideline for effective scriptwriting is to be transparent and authentic. Back in 2013, Edelman reported what everyone already knew: that customers are more likely to trust peers and experts over companies. And while companies can never be peers (in the way that vloggers like PewDiePie are peers), they can be experts. Video marketing is a very effective type of content marketing, and the ultimate goal of content marketing should be thought leadership. In other words, you want your viewers will see you as an expert and place trust in your brand.

9. Take your time story-boarding

GoAnimate has a pretty good explainer post that covers the basics of storyboards and why video marketers should always make them before shooting the video. Fortunately, we don’t need to take GoAnimate’s word alone, because any producer would tell you the same thing.

No, storyboarding is not only for cartoons. Just as a script is indispensable, a storyboard is invaluable as a cheap way to visualize the shoot before it happens and to pivot and make adjustments as necessary based on insights gleaned from the storyboarding process.

10. Make a shot list

Just as a storyboard is the scene-by-scene breakdown of a video, a shot list is the shot-by-shot breakdown of each scene. Shot lists include more specifics, like camera placement and lighting direction. Figuring out a storyboard and then a shot list in advance with your producer and videographer will save you tons of time during production.

11. Create a production schedule

Also called a shooting schedule, this is the document you need to have in order to make any kind of judgment call on whether your video project is going according to plan and to manage the time expectations of stakeholders. It’s important to always keep track of the following:

A production schedule is a one-stop-shop for all your production questions and concerns, and should be updated regularly. The next few steps will all go over how to create a practical production schedule and other things to consider.

12. Overestimate the time you’ll need

Generously. As a rule of thumb (and particularly when stakeholders are involved), it’s always best to under-promise but overdeliver. One of the best ways you can do that is by not giving yourself a razor-thin window of completion, especially if you aren’t very familiar with video production workflows. Underestimating production time is just as bad as overestimating resource capacity.

There are so many moving parts to even short video projects with live actors. If this is your first time working on a video project, or if you still feel you aren’t very experienced – give yourself more time to work with. So many unforeseen scheduling, shooting, and post-production conflicts could occur outside your control. Not to mention it’s never a good idea to rush things.

13. Decide between studio versus location

There are few decisions you can make with more resounding impact on the production schedule than whether you want to do your shoot at a studio or on location. While it may not seem like a huge deal at a glance, it certainly is for your budget. Studios will already have everything in place for you to work with, and all you’ll need to do is show up and bring your actors. Shooting on location, on the other hand, involves travel and equipment transportation costs. Fat Chimp Studios has a pretty neat infographic on the differences.

14. Visit all locations ahead of time

Even if you do decide to shoot in a studio, you should still visit it beforehand. One of the best ways to arrive at an accurate production schedule is by determining which locations will be problematic and scheduling them into your day based on availability. Outdoor shots, for example, should be done as early as possible to avoid inclement weather, while office shots should be conducted after hours for the best sound and flexibility. When it comes to location-scouting, there are many other factors to consider as well.

Visiting locations ahead of time also gives you the chance to preview each “scene” and update your shot list with actual pictures. But if visiting ahead of time is infeasible, then do your best to get in touch with someone who can provide those pictures for you.

15. Determine your equipment needs

Knowing exactly what equipment you’ll need for each and every single shot in your shot list is complicated, but it should be something that you have set in stone long before the first camera starts rolling. But while understanding the basics of a script, storyboard, shot list, and even production schedule are easy, knowing why a Canon 5D wide angle lens steady camera is the best choice for a specific 3-second shot is not so intuitive. Ideally, equipment needs will be managed directly by a production manager. For smaller projects, the videographer should be the one making the call.

16. Inventory equipment you already have

Once you’ve worked with your producer to list out the equipment you’ll need for all your shots, take a moment to double check what you already have in-house (because your producer certainly won’t know). Larger companies with multiple departments could literally have viable equipment anywhere and everywhere. Maybe there’s a certain type of microphone that HR uses to make their recruiting videos, or a high-tech camera lying somewhere in Product. Checking could save you hundreds to thousands of dollars in rentals.

17. Find your company’s best cheerleader

Often, the narrator in large-scale business videos will be someone from the C-suite. But sometimes (and let’s face it), no one in the C-suite can act. That’s when hiring professional actors can come in handy.

But if you want to try and shave a bit more off your budget and identify a long-term talking head for your videos (especially if you want to start a company vlog), keep in mind that there could already be someone already in HR, Sales, or Marketing who’s just waiting to shine. Stephanie Gehman, the marketing manager of Harrisburg International Airport, recommends considering “the person in the office who encourages and has a smile for everyone.”

Each company has its fair share of interesting characters, and one of them might just fit the camera perfectly.

18. Have a call sheet

Regardless of whether you decide to go with professional actors, one of the last spreadsheets you’ll want to prepare is the call sheet. This all-important companion sheet to the production schedule includes the contact information of every member of the film production crew as well as actors. A good call sheet is will answer all the basic “who, what, where, when, and why” questions at a glance, and is practically invaluable when it comes to calming nerves and, again – managing expectations.

19. Line up your talent

Once you have your script, storyboard, shot list, production schedule and call sheet lined up, it’s time to put your talent on set. As any actor will tell you, the importance of line-readings and rehearsals cannot be understated (and not just for film!). It’s just a good idea to get your talent familiar with locations, dress, directions – the whole nine yards – before they show up for the actual shoot and you realize that one of your actresses is dangerously allergic to pollen.

It’s also wise to get your actors to come in ahead of time just so you know what you’re getting yourself into. Pre-production is the best time to recast if necessary.